Until 1954, the world thought that it was virtually impossible for a human being to run a sub 4-minute mile. Impossible. This fact was not disputed. After finishing 4th in a college race, Roger Bannister who had never put on running shoes until the age of 17 resolved to break the impossible 4-minute barrier. He accomplished this feat on May 6,1954 at a track in Oxford, with Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher providing the pacing. The exact time was 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds-something that all the world had declared was humanly impossible. His record lasted just 46 days.
The mind is a powerful object. It has been proven repeatedly that what we believe impacts our performance, our creativity, our success and our overall happiness. The few pounds of tissue located between our ears weighs only 2% of our total body weight but can profoundly affect how we perceive the world and how we perform in it.
We experience many life circumstances which cause us to send thoughts down the impossible bleak road of negative thinking and into the depths of less than desired performance. Some of these include:
- Being laid off or terminated from a job
- A change in job status or position
- Moving to a new home no matter how exciting
- Introduction of a new family member through birth, adoption or foster
- Experiencing financial woes
- Development of a serious illness or injury
- The death of a loved one or close friend
- Any change in marital status whether expected or not
- Having a child leave or return home.
Self-care during times of change, stress and life challenges is crucial. Implementation of simple, helpful practices can assist in shifting thought patterns. Coupled with mindfulness toward healthy diet and consistent exercise, a shift can occur. Science has proven in so many ways that there is a definite link between the mind and body. In addition, many spiritual practices include teachings around the value of positive thinking, meditation, positive prayer and affirmations. These all may assist in nudging the mind toward a shift in thinking which profoundly and ultimately affects the performance of the body. Mindfulness and meditation practices are included in much current research which indicates that these daily activities lead to improved well-being.
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize itself, both physically and functionally, throughout life based on the way we live, behave, think and feel. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
We are always birthing new neurons which can reshape and rewire the brain based on the way we think. One of the key aspects of neural plasticity is called Neural Darwinism, or “neural pruning,” which means that any neuron that isn’t ‘fired-and-wired’ together into a network will die on the vine (negative thoughts.) Conversely, Hebb’s Law (Donald Hebb, 1949) suggested that “neurons that fire together wire together” which explains the process of wiring and strengthening brain pathways through positive shift in thoughts. The key is to activate as many of these pathways as possible given that they work synergistically. This may be accomplished through activities of self-care and affirmative thoughts and behavior.
When life challenges occur, and the mind starts the spiral toward impossible or negative thinking begin the move toward pruning away the old neural pathways and developing new ones. Here are some steps to help you do that:
Notice: Recognize that we are amid one of those life transitions that cause stress and anxiety which affects our thinking and therefore affect our bodies.
Begin: Consider whatever method of shifting of thoughts to create new neural pathways we might attempt. Even the least of the activities/actions can help alleviate stress.
Baby steps: Small changes can be beneficial. Be mindful of eating habits. Eliminate unhealthy comfort eating which may soothe any pain for a moment but result in guilt later. Take a walk. Meditate, pray or just close your eyes for a few minutes a day. Do something special for yourself.
Repeat and repeat and repeat.
None of these activities will eliminate the actual life stressors which are causing the suffering, but small changes here and there begin to slow down the impossible and negative thinking which seek to rule your mind and body. The biggest and most important step is to notice that it is happening and know that it is possible to shift through creation of new neural pathways. Suffering does not have to endure if we implement steps to soften the blows of life.
As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Deborah Cole is a writer, photographer and speaker based in Austin, Texas. With graduate degrees from Texas A&M University and The Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest, she has over 35 years of success as a business owner and organizational leader. Deborah combines the wisdom of decades of business savvy with a deep, personal belief in the inherent potential of all people to achieve their dreams at every age. Through personal achievement, teaching business skills, and providing inspiring, practical messages, Deborah enjoys sharing lessons of possibility, potential, and performance. Her book Letting Go is her story of unexpected transitions from a perfectly plotted and planned future as an entrepreneur to a topsy-turvy life where her creative talents emerge and she accepts her new identity as a speaker, writer and photographer.